short stories

~ Toward the Keyboard ~

(The opening piece to my soon-to-be-finished book ‘Scraps of Madness: the Notes of a Wanderer’)


~ Toward the Keyboard ~

It was true. Oh god, oh god: it was true.

The opening years of adulthood had passed and my conclusion had been drawn: I was an alien – an outsider – an outcast. I had tried to a reasonable degree to slot myself into the paradigm of human society, but I gradually realised that there was just no place for me amongst those stern-eyed creatures of culture and convention. Each attempt to fit myself in had led to the usual bout of alien anxiety and staring up existentially into skies above. I stood still on those concrete sidewalks of life with my hands in my pockets knowing that I just simply wasn’t compatible with any of it: the jobs, the paperwork, the contracts, the football teams, the small talk, dating, mortgages, Ikea – Ant and Dec. Even simple everyday things like supermarket shopping somehow made me sad. Those aisles had a still emptiness which made my heart ache for something which couldn’t be purchased in any store, or made in any factory, or stored in any house.

People with good intentions encouraged me to mix myself in but I was hopelessly allergic to it all. A life of comfort and security was okay for a few months at the most, but after that my restless eyes lifted once again to that horizon of adventure and chaos. That possibly explained why I had spent three of the last five years on some sort of travelling expedition out somewhere in the world. Expedition makes it sound like I was climbing Mount Everest, although I did trek to the base camp twice, but too often I was bumming around, getting drunk in hostels and attempting to seem like a normal, functioning member of the human race so I could hook up with some young German girl who was about to become a lawyer and begin the peaceful middle-class existence in the suburbs.

People back home said that there was something wrong with me: that I was immature, that I was out of my mind – that I was running away from life and or something like that. Maybe they were right, but in my head, I wasn’t running away from life, but rather running toward it with wide arms, a heavy heart and a weathered backpack full of old clothes and a couple of books on esoteric philosophy to boot. It was just a different perspective and all that, you know? Truthfully, I guess I just saw no thrill in a life of bill-paying routine, in a steady career, in promotions, parking spaces, weddings, television sitcoms, shiny cars or that same old holiday once a year to somewhere in Spain. All I could do was wonder was that really what human existence was all about? Was that my destiny as a sentient organism in an infinite universe? Was that to be my fate whilst briefly incarnate in this transient cage of slowly decaying flesh and bone?

It was an interesting situation to say the least. I truly and genuinely wanted to understand their way of life, so I did the usual things. I watched TED talks. I listened to Jordan Peterson lectures. I spoke to career counselors, parents and work colleagues. I argued with strangers on the internet in YouTube comment sections. I tried and tried and tried, but in the end, I just didn’t understand how the vast majority could do it so easily. What they called ‘growing up’ and ‘the real world’ to me seemed like some weird bubble of unnatural behavior. After all, what was natural about sitting in an office in artificial light all day, only to drive home in a gas-guzzling car and eat processed foods while watching a blinking box life until you went to sleep? That wasn’t what the real world was. To me the real world was out there among the fields and trees – the rivers, the streams, the sunset beaches and mountain wildernesses. That’s where the life and adventure was at! Even better was what was out there in the cosmos with its shooting stars and endless galaxies. It felt so cruel to be able to see that infinite universe on a clear night above me. I wanted to go out and explore it all, but I had been subjected by gravity and government to instead exist in a world of monotony and mediocrity. Instead of sailing through the cosmos, we’d stutter through traffic jams; instead of exploring solar systems, we’d explore supermarket aisles. Why was it like this? Which cruel god had created this circus? This pantomime?

Okay, so I guess I was a little bit bitter of the others being content with what they had – at actually managing to make the journey from the maternity ward to the crematorium in some sort of steady and sane fashion. I envied their contentment about neatly fitting into system without any friction. They peacefully rode the cultural conveyor-belt through the education system, the jobs, the mortgages, the family life, the bank holidays and retirement before arriving safely into a wooden box to be duly buried six feet under the ground. It was a simple and smooth procedure. But me? I was a chaotic mess waiting to move perpetually on to the next adventure. I just couldn’t stay still in one spot. I had an itch that couldn’t be scratched; a madness that couldn’t be cured. I was just so excited to even exist at all that the 9-5 routine seemed impossible to do for more than a year at the very most. I needed frequent adventure but travelling all the time was tiring and most notably: expensive. It was true that I needed to find something else to help me fill the time in between the maternity ward and the crematorium like the others had done. There must have been something that fulfilled me other than travelling? Something that I could do while living in one place? Something? Anything?

There was: writing. Switching on some ambient music and letting myself lose my mind at a keyboard was a very fulfilling thing indeed. It reminded me of being a young kid again, picking and piecing those Lego bricks together, building structures and creating things, only with words and ideas instead of plastic bricks. It was an act of joyous play which never felt like a chore or a job. Hell, even the essays in school were somewhat enjoyable as long as there was some sort of agency and creativity involved. In a society of rigid rules, the act of writing allowed me to be the archetype of whatever alternative reality I wanted to momentarily migrate to. That pen was a portal and quite simply it took me to a different place. A separate place. A better place.

Yes, it was clear to me that being a writer would have been something to solve my existential problem. So naturally I looked at the realistic and sensible options available and decided to start studying journalism at university. I guess I thought that the role of a journalist would provide a way to make money while joyfully strumming away on those keyboard keys. However, about midway through that three-year course, I realised that sitting in an office and typing up a news story I had no interest in didn’t really interest me either. What I wanted to do was to WRITE – creatively and expressively that is. In a world where I was slowly suffocated by sanity and sensibility, creative writing was my opportunity to go insane – to explore the spaces down the rabbit hole and create my own wonderland of words and bizarre ideas.

So, after finishing my journalism course with gritted teeth and a damaged liver, I went on to study creative writing at master’s level. The thought of the situation made my heart pump with excitement. This was my chance to explore my passion with like-minded creatures. Finally, my tribe! My place with people who wanted to create with words, who wanted to explore their imagination – who were also driven to write out of their total and profound incompatibility with absolutely everything else in human society.

I was certain I had found my place of belonging but soon after starting I realised I was out of luck once again. I sat in a room of middle-aged marketing executives having a mid-life crisis, trying to write the next War and Peace or Wuthering Heights. One guy read out some story and I watched as about five different people from different demographics weighed in with their conflicting opinions, to which he then butchered the essence of his piece apart to make it sit in the middle of the road and please everyone. For some reason it made me sad and I decided there and then to quit. Maybe I wasn’t a writer, but these people weren’t definitely weren’t, so off I went again, quitting the course, flying one way to Mexico, travelling around, staring out into sunset skies – getting drunk and hitting on German girls who were about to qualify as lawyers and begin the peaceful middle-class existence in the suburbs. The usual.

The more I travelled the world, the more I started to appreciate and gravitate toward the wilderness of planet earth. The party and the girls and the foreign cultures: those sorts of things were definitely fun while travelling, but the best parts were always getting out of the cities and hostels. It was those little camping trips or hikes into the wild. The mountains, the forests, the fields – the sunset beaches and rugged plains devoid of any substantial human civilisation. From the volcanoes of Central America to the untouched, empty wilderness of Iceland, to the isolated Buddhist temples of the Himalayas – it was all a magical wonderland to me. Like writing, it was a beautiful escape from the world of clocks and calendars and concrete and contracts; a place where you could exist peacefully without being disturbed by a traffic jam or deadline or some boss belittling you over something meaningless and trivial.

Recalling being a little kid, I remembered that I always found a great joy in the time I spent in nature. Even if it was just a field or something, there was a sense of adventure in a simple stretch of grass which had more life than any buzzing city could ever hope to achieve. The average field mouse had more adventure in one day than many humans had in their entire lives. And it’s not just that the animals’ lives were more thrilling, it often seemed like they were smarter than us too. Take the birds for example: instead of bulldozing entire rainforests down so that they could use the materials for cosmetics and tabloid newspapers, they instead picked up and recycled fallen branches and used them to build homes integrated with the world around them. The animals understood that they were interconnected with nature and that, rather than trying to rape and destroy it, it was better to work with it. Dogs too. They didn’t chase the stick because they saw an advert on the television for it, or because they thought they would get some sort of promotion. They just did it for kicks. They knew existence was playful not political, and they knew not to stress and strain their lives away working for trivial things or the opinions of other dogs. And cats, well, they knew what life was about to the absolute core. Just look at them sitting there doing nothing. Total Zen masters. Godlike geniuses and gurus – every goddamn last one of them.

Okay, so I guess maybe I was a bit jealous and bitter again when it came to the animals. I felt sad that I was spawned on this planet as a human-being and not a squirrel or something. Since childhood I had often felt that I was born into the wrong species. I stared out into the eyes of the humans thinking that perhaps there had been a mix up back at the soul distribution warehouse. Perhaps mine had been wrongly delivered to the human department instead of the cats or dogs or birds? Probably that was it: some incompetent god not doing his job properly in the depot centre. For a while I tried to be like a cat – a total Zen master, meditating and sleeping and eating and staring into space with no excitement, just total acceptance of the here and now. But after a while I realised I was still actually human and needed things like money and companionship and hobbies and purpose. As usual I was out of luck: I was a human-being and nothing was going to change that. Sex changes had just about hit the market, but species’ changes must have been a few centuries away at the least.

And so, with a heavy heart and a broken bank account, I retreated back into human society. I flew home, got a job in a bar and tried to get back into writing. By now I had realised it was the one and only thing I enjoyed at home, so naturally I had to pursue it ferociously and uncompromisingly in an attempt to stay sane. I had been writing for a while, but I had never really had anything read by anyone else. I wanted to find my audience and so I started considering the possibilities. It was the 21st century I had realised, so maybe online was the way to go? Okay. Online I went into the virtual wilderness – to the lands of trolls, porn, junk mail and depressed people trying to make it look like they lived happy and exciting lives to strangers on the internet.

Firstly, I went onto Instagram to check out the hotshot authors: the ones with thousands of likes on every post; the ones who somehow managed to actually make some money off pounding some keys on a keyboard. As I read, I realised that there was some sort of mass trickery taking place. Everyone on Instagram seemed to post bland comments about life or love and then dress them up in pretty fonts and filters to try and make their words look more meaningful. Even worse was the way people had to like and spam comments on each other’s posts in an attempt to get more followers and views on their own pages. It was a strange situation; it was like watching those suited marketing executives in the city network with each other in swanky bars after work. Confused as ever, I decided to carry on my way.

Stumbling further through the virtual wilderness of the internet, I came across Facebook. At least on Facebook you could post lengthy pieces of texts, I thought. I logged in and started a blog called ‘The Thoughts From The Wild’ where I posted images of people walking in nature with some sort of internal dialogue about travel or life or society. It was a simple concept and it worked! My blog took off within a few weeks and people, real people, somewhere out there across the world were reading and interacting with my writings for the first time ever. I felt like Shakespeare or Hemingway back from the dead, armed with a grubby laptop, hopelessly and poetically alone with everybody on the internet. The pen had moved on and there I was: hiding my face behind a pseudonym online while being read and digested by a few hundred people sporadically scattered somewhere around the globe.

As I carried on sharing my words and thoughts, a quiet flame of joy began to flicker in my heart. I wasn’t even adventuring, yet I was still finding some fulfilment by just bleeding my brain dry at a keyboard. What a joy it was just to have your stuff read by others somewhere out there! One woman even messaged me saying she had quit a job and was about to drive around Australia because of something I had written. Another young painter told me something similar – that I had given her the courage to pursue her ambition to become an artist.

That feedback was like a class A drug to me and I sat back delusional at that keyboard like a man of importance, like a man of purpose. I was content knowing that I was helping to spread some colour and madness into this grey world. I looked out at the window with a smug sort of grin. Soon those streets outside would have mad men and women crawling down the sidewalks, eyes full of fire and saliva dripping from their mouth as they quit their desk jobs and chased their passions with a demonic sort of possession. The revolution was coming over the horizon, I knew it. I just needed to keep writing away and helping the side of the crazy and disturbed and demented.

Of course, I still needed money while I was toiling away in this heroic endeavour, so naturally I worked the monotonous jobs in the meanwhile. Jobs like bartending, factory work and customer service came and went in short bursts. They were always the easiest to get for an inexperienced and introverted creature like myself. Some were bad and some were awful, but they all helped pay the bills I guess, and I could even find inspiration for things to write about while daydreaming the hours away as I stared wistfully into time and space.

This state of existence went on for a while. It would be a day of menial work followed by an evening of losing my mind at the keyboard. Somewhere in there I would find time to eat a basic no-thrills meal, and maybe even treat myself to a bottle of red wine. Occasionally I would go out and walk the streets while listening to some Zen philosopher’s podcast through my headphones. With the sound of existential philosophy in my ears, I looked out and observed the human race like I was on some kind of safari. I wandered aimlessly through the city neighbourhoods and watched the way they all walked and talked while taking mental notes for my writings. Situations like standing in the crowd that momentarily formed at the traffic lights or waiting in the supermarket queue would turn out to be schools of ethnographic observation. Maybe it was a little strange I guess, but such an undertaking added to whatever it was I was striving for in a way I couldn’t totally explain to myself let alone others. There was some burning desire deep inside me that told me I needed to observe, to learn and understand the absurdity of the human condition. To what end? That wasn’t clear, but I just I needed to know what made them tick.

After doing this for a while, I realised I had substantially segregated and closed myself off from the rest of my species. As the months drifted by, I realised I was living dangerously in a world of extreme isolation and bad diet habits. I was somewhat used to keeping myself away from the masses out there on the streets. I liked it that way mostly, the situation of being content with your own company, but my hermit-levels had slowly reached castaway proportions. Every day I went to work and avoided any significant interaction with my co-workers before going home to sit in darkness and empty my brain at that keyboard to random strangers on the internet. It was an extreme situation and carrying on at this rate would almost certainly pave the road toward the madhouse. ‘Venture down the rabbit-hole just enough to find the magic; hold on to normality just enough to avoid the madhouse’ – something I had scribbled once into my diary. With that in mind, I decided that I would go out and have a drink with a friend.

By now my circle of friends and acquaintances had shrunk considerably, but luckily I had come across a few other misfits out on the road during my travels. I remembered one who also lived in my city and got speaking to her online. Her name was Emily – an anxious girl who didn’t have much of an idea how to fit herself into this society either. I recalled her telling me how she also listened to ambient music and painted abstract art to escape normal life. She seemed like the ideal person to befriend. We spoke for a while online and then arranged to meet up for a drink down the pub.

“So, your life sounds interesting,” she said, sipping a glass of wine across the table. “I do worry about you though.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Humans weren’t meant to exist in solitude all the time. Too much time alone sends you crazy. That’s what happened to my ex.”

“Don’t worry about me,” I said. “I’ve got it all figured out. I am just gonna write my books and start the revolution this world needs.” She looked at me like the madman I was.

“I’m glad you are enjoying writing now and not feeling like you have to run off to a foreign country every month. But what are you planning to do for work in the long term? Do you have any plans for the future? A career? It’s hard to make money from writing these days. Everybody with a laptop and internet connection wants to be a writer you know.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just want to write and maybe have a few more adventures here and there. I guess I’ll work whatever job I have to along the way. I’m not sure. I stopped planning too much.”

“Come on. You know I love that about you, your adventurous attitude, but realistically you can’t just continue living like this forever. You need to spend some more time with people and learn to live with others. That’s what I did. Sure, I have to bite my tongue from time to time, but it beats being lonely and isolated and depressed. That’s what being alone all the time did to me.”

“I’m sorry Emily, but I like it this way. Maybe you do, but I just don’t understand this species. I am just here to observe and write about these creatures of conformity and convention before I return back to whatever place it was that I came from.” She rolled her eyes.

“Oh, please just stop. I hate when you speak like this. You say all these things, but I know you don’t mean them. I saw you were happy with those people when we were travelling. You do like people and you are human – just accept it! You have to face up to it and learn how to be happy in this society. You can’t just hide away on your own forever.”

“I can try.”

“No! No you can’t! You need some security, a way to make money – a place to call home! You need friends and you need family. We are all social creatures and you’ll go insane if you just keep secluding yourself in that apartment of yours. I know you are working hard on your writing but why don’t you go out and see some more of your friends some time? The ones from school you told me about?”

I sat back in thoughtful silence, pondering her words. Some of the things she had said did ring true. I couldn’t deny she was right in many regards. Human beings were social creatures and often the suicides and mental asylum patients were the people who had been subjected to years of isolation. Like I said, it was true that I felt pretty good in my own company, but maybe she was right with there being a limit to it all? Maybe I did need to regularly spend time with other people? Try and see things from their perspective? Enjoy the camaraderie and gregarious nature of my fellow man?

In the end I decided her fiery words were right. I had gone too far, been too audacious in my behaviour. I had wandered too long over the fences of normality and it was time to return to the farm of social sanity to rub shoulders with some more of the others.

The next week I decided to go to a birthday celebration night out of one of my friends from school. It had been an arranged date on the social calendar for a while. A large group of people were going and naturally I had planned to avoid it at all costs. A lot of people consequently meant a lot of small talk – a lot of small talk meant a lot of explanation about what you were actually doing with your life. Such a situation wasn’t really appealing but with gritted teeth and a determination to cling on the ledge of sanity a little longer, I booked my bus ticket to London and went and met everyone in a pub somewhere deep within the concrete jungle.

I arrived late into the bar where all my friends were sat around a table already on their second and third pints. The jolly laughs and banter-filled conversations were flowing in full steam already. That camaraderie of my fellow man on display right in front of me. I breathed in, composed myself and headed over to join the circus. As I approached, they looked up at me with their big eyes and smiles. “Here he is,” one of them said enthusiastically. “The stranger! He’s still alive then.”

I forced a polite smile and sat down among them. I got comfy and began getting through the formalities, reciting the socially approved script of small talk and making sure everyone felt I was happy to be there and see them. After a few shaky minutes, I went up to the bar and ordered myself a beer, along with a sneaky double whiskey coke to steady my nerves. I returned to the table and carried on mixing in with the crowd. The conversation flowed away and soon came the inevitable questions I so feared: the questions the normal people used to categorise everyone and everything; the questions that determined whether or not you were an accepted member of the human race.

“So, what are you doing now mate?” one of them said. “We haven’t heard from you in a while. Last I heard you started a master’s course in creative writing. You still doing that?” I sipped my beer slowly, mentally preparing my answer inside my skull.

“Nah I didn’t like the course, so I quit that after three weeks and flew one-way to Mexico to do some more travelling.” He looked at me with curious eyes.

“Fair enough… I guess it’s better to do that than to pay thousands of pounds on something you don’t enjoy. How was Mexico?”

“Great,” I said. “It’s a great country to travel.”

“That’s cool. I’d like to go there sometime.”

“Yeah you should.”

An awkward silence briefly lingered; I still hadn’t answered the original question.

“So, what is it that you’re up to now?”

The justification of my madness had begun. I sipped my beer slowly again before beginning to explain away. In all honesty I wasn’t even sure how to answer that question by this point. Often, I felt that I was simply too insane to justify myself anymore. My life was like being stuck in a car on fire speeding toward a cliff that dropped into the abyss of the unknown. It was seriously difficult to explain to myself let alone others, but I began bumbling away anyway, talking about my job, about my blog – about adventure and some vague writing goals for the future. I of course knew that vague goals for the future were a key thing when justifying what you were doing with your life; if you didn’t have some sort of plan and long-term targets, then the looks of concern were thrown your way in the bucket load.

Fortunately, this round of small talk went better than expected. I explained away my job and writing, and as I got more comfortable, I began opening up and speaking a bit more from the heart. I began talking about the things that actually interested me: about the universe and art and consciousness and philosophy. But I soon felt them dissecting me with their eyes. I was pushing the limit of social acceptability and naturally the conversation began to stall. I could see the sparks flying in their eyes; the buffering taking place in their heads. I realised I had gone too far and panicked. They were onto me. It wouldn’t be long until they figured out that I wasn’t one of them. That I was an imposter. That I was an intruder.

Naturally I responded to this problem by drinking faster and faster. Over the last few years I had discovered that alcohol could act as a temporary bubble of warmth in which to nestle oneself whenever human society was swarming too loud around you. This blur of drinking went on until the world faded away and I descended into the black void of nothingness I knew all too well. The next morning, I awoke in a friend’s living room before dragging myself back home on a two-hour bus with a hangover great enough to make the devil weep. I was still alive though and looking forward to returning to my lair of solitude where I belonged locked up alone with my own terrible madness.

After that occasion, I realised that there simply was just no way back to that farm of social normality. I had jumped the fence and got lost in the woods of madness with no chance of ever returning back. I was no longer one of the regular humans capable of being considered an upstanding, accepted member of society. With this in mind, I sat in silent solitude and decided that the only thing left to do was to abandon myself recklessly to the one thing that set my soul on fire: writing. Writing, writing, writing. If human society was the army of zombies closing in on me, then writing was my way of fighting them all off – my way of blasting away the darkness and keeping that flame of joy flickering bright in my heart. I opened up my laptop and stared at that familiar blank page. I lifted my hands and rode into war once more with words as weapons to fight my battles. My fingertips fought for freedom. For life. For sanity. For my own alien spirit.

In the meanwhile, life went on as it normally did. I worked those low-paying, menial jobs while staring into space and daydreaming about things to write down whenever I got home. As soon as I finished work each day, I marched through those concrete streets toward the keyboard to pour my thoughts onto the page. It had all become some sort of private religion of madness. Writing was the only thing I truly understood in my heart – it was the only time I felt at home when my fingertips hovered over those grubby keyboard keys. As human society buzzed on outside my window, I just sat alone in my room and wrote and wrote my way into oblivion. Other than that, I didn’t know where the hell I was going or what I was doing. I was at the point where I didn’t even care anymore. I was out of the farm of sanity, over the fences of normality, running with the wild horses barefoot and bewitched into the woods of madness. As planet earth continued rotating its way through an infinite universe, I just sat alone in my apartment incessantly hitting those keyboard keys, listening to ambient music, dreaming of exploring distant star systems, chained down to the earth by gravity and government – writing words and smiling to myself in the dark while sitting back and knowing that life was absurd.

Life was totally and beautifully: absurd.

the fighter

 

thoughts

~ Straight From The Source ~

~ Straight from the Source ~

“Why can’t you just write something normal, you know? Why can’t you just write a book about your actual travels? Why all the weird existentialism?”

I know, I know. My writing is not radio-friendly. It’s probably not going to make me many friends. It’s also not going to be something my parents will read through with a smile on. But it is the raw truth of me that fills my flesh and bones, and in this world that is something that my soul yearns out for. I do not believe that what this world needs right now is another middle of the road story. I do not believe what we need are some more people playing it safe. No, no: I do not want to add to that. In this life what we need are a few people to stand up and show who they really are to the world. What we need is some raw authenticity and gritty truth – a look at the dirty underbelly beneath the masks and makeup of the human race. What we need are the secrets of the silent souls – if only to let others out there know that they aren’t alone with how they feel in this life.

Yes that is what we need, and so here it is from myself: the mess and madness from my mind. The scraps of insanity in my skull. The aches and pains in my heart. The things that I can never speak when I stare into the eyes of you humans, but only express once I am alone in a room at a keyboard, separated from society, the tether cut so the spirit bird can finally rise up and express itself. And yes, I know it isn’t all pretty and polished, but better to be a genuine mess from the source of the soul, than to be perfectly packaged in a fake plastic reality.”

thoughts

~ Castaway ~

~ Castaway ~

“The humans in this world often scared me. It was their faces – the way they talked; the way they walked. It was the magazines they read, the television shows they watched, the fake smiles, the relentless consumerism and empty conversations. It was true that there were some humans not like that, but they were hard to track down among the swarming masses. Stuck on this rock with them, I liked to have my own space and to be able to travel away from that grey world of concrete and contracts and citizens. Unfortunately my existence on this planet was subject to the concept of money, and this meant I needed a job to do those few things I liked.

I went online and read their job adverts. They all asked for an ‘outgoing people person’; for a ‘team player’; for a ‘career-minded individual’. Reading the criteria, I had to laugh in despair at my limited chance. I was none of those things, so what was I supposed to do? Lie? Wear a mask? ‘Play the game’ – as they often said? If it really all was a game then it was a bad one. It seemed that there was some sort of fix – that the cold-blooded sociopaths and liars rose to the top while the most intelligent took anti-depressants and sat in therapist offices paying for the right not to go insane. In a world of steely-faced executives and agents, I felt like a castaway soul stranded in the dirt, chained down by gravity – trapped in a cage of slowly decaying flesh and bone. Since I was born I often felt homesick for a place I’d never known; homesick for a place I’d never been. In the worst moments I gazed up into skies above thinking that maybe my species was somewhere out there beyond the neighbouring solar-systems and stars. After all, there was an endless ocean of galaxies and worlds out there, but somehow I had ended up in one full of things I just didn’t understand. The situation was strange, but what else could I do? Where else could I turn? Where else could I go?

I thought some more about it and decided that my only chance of escape was to let myself become a beacon of insanity in the darkness. I decided that my only chance of escape was to set fire to my soul and let my eyes blaze with a brightness so bright, that if someone was out there searching for me, they might just be able to find me and come bring me home.”

castaway.jpg

(taken from my book ‘The Thoughts From The Wild’ available here)

short stories

~ The Crazy Ones ~

~ The Crazy Ones ~

“His eyes were wild and his spirit uncombed. He had an alien presence that captivated everybody in the room. As we sat round the hostel bar table drinking beers, he flung his arms around like a maniac and told tales of his adventures. He must have been nearing fifty years-old but still possessed the dazzled and bewitched gaze of an infant discovering the surrounding world for the first time. At every moment he seemed painfully excited to be alive. He chugged his beer and spoke of hitchhiking around America while sleeping on the side of roads; he spoke of fighting off a couple of Venezuelan robbers with a knife; he spoke of helping to build an orphanage somewhere in Mongolia with a group of eagle hunters.

As he regaled us with his tales, I looked around at the younger faces around the table. Some looked intimidated and others looked utterly transfixed. No doubt the younger ones of the group had not encountered a creature of this kind before. Personally I had met a few people like this before out here on the road. I recognised a little bit of myself in him and enjoyed sipping my beer to his stories, although I could never imagine venturing as far down the rabbit-hole as he had done. It was true that I liked to have chaotic adventures – but fighting off some guys with a knife in a country known for drug gangs, gun crime and bloody murders was maybe a little too bohemian for me.

The tales of worldwide chaos and anarchy went on until eventually everyone’s beers had run dry. Looking down at the foamy mass at the bottle of the glass, he got up and headed back to the bar while offering to get a round in for everyone at the table. As soon as he left the table the gossip began. “Well, he’s a bit ‘out there’ isn’t he?” said one girl. “Yeah, is anyone else slightly afraid?” said the guy beside me. “How is someone like that still alive? How old even is he?” wondered another. As they carried on talking I couldn’t help but sit back and smile. I knew that although they were slightly intimidated, they were also secretly fascinated by such a ferocious free-spirit. The look in their eyes had a sort of marvel – an amazement that a man his age could still be living such an adventurous life. With this in mind, they chatted away about him with a sort of curious interest. This is how it was – this is how it always was with these types of people.

Always the crazy ones were discussed with hidden interest. Some were mocked outright, and others were affectionately referred to with lines like “she’s a bit different” or “he’s a bit out there”. Whatever the case, it seemed most people had a subconscious fascination for the alternative mind. People would stand back and observe them as if they were a rare species – some kind of exotic bird with pink feathers. Mostly they fascinated me because they were the creatures who had jumped the fences of normality; they were the ones who hadn’t subscribed to the current version of sanity which helped us all enjoy small-talk down the pub. To me that was a liberating quality I couldn’t help but envy. Without being shepherded on the farm of conventional thought, you were free to invent yourself and be whatever you wanted to be. And what was more desirable than that? In a world that said the winners were the rich people, or the famous people, or the good-looking people, to me it was the crazy ones – the people living life on their own terms – who were life’s greatest success stories.”

(taken from my book ‘The Thoughts From The Wild’ available here)

 

 

thoughts

~ The Hills Above The Cities ~

~ The Hills Above The Cities ~

“A brain overcharged by absurdity; a soul starving for something real. Another day of menial work and superficial interaction had left me craving a space of solitude. Like I had so many times before, I took myself up to that hill that overlooked my hometown. Standing above that urban expanse with its rows and rows of streets sprawled out before me, I cast my gaze outward and watched the city lights shimmering in the night. There they were: the flames of humanity flickering in the abyss of the universe; the human race floating through space, going about its transient existence. I stood there for a while and absorbed the sight. From the outside looking in, I thought of all those people living in those houses, walking those sidewalks, staring into those televisions and bathroom windows. I thought of the families at dinner tables, the lovers entwined on sofas, the friends laughing together in the bars and clubs and restaurants.

In that moment a great feeling of isolation crashed over me. In vivid detail, I began to realise just how much I was cut adrift, floating uncontrollably further and further away from those shores of human belonging. And no matter how I looked at it, there seemed to be no way to pull or anchor myself back in. It had always been this way from a young age it seemed. The times I tried to fit myself into the herd had torn and twisted me up beyond repair. I simply didn’t understand my fellow species, or any of their customs. I didn’t understand the conventions. I didn’t understand the expectations and traditions. I didn’t understand why everyone wanted to be the same rather than live a life true to themselves. It was all a great mystery to me: the jobs, the media, the school-system, the paperwork, the small-talk, the religions – the monotonous routine. It seemed that I was allergic to it all. In my most desperate times, I did try to fake it, but like an undercover alien with a bad cover story, it was never long before people cast their looks of bewilderment upon me, before they realised that I was not one of them – that I was an intruder.

It’s not that the situation of isolation was completely soul-destroying, of course. There was a great joy to be found in sailing your own ship, in walking your own path and getting lost among your own mountains of madness. Often I felt great pleasure in not being labelled and closed in to some sort of box of limitation. There was a sort of freedom that many people never got to taste, let alone fully explore. But still despite that, I was burdened with the situation of being a human-being, and like all human-beings I needed to stare into the eyes of someone who understood – of someone who recognised me for who I really was. I guess for a while on my travels I looked out for those people, expecting to find them on sunset beaches and sitting wistful-eyed in smoky bars in foreign lands. Sometimes I was even lucky to find one or two, but the interactions were usually short-lived, lasting only a few hours or days at the most. Like captains of two ships briefly passing by in a wide ocean, we stared into each other’s eyes and exchanged knowing glances before disappearing silently into the mist.

Yes, the more I stood there on that hill and thought about it, the more it seemed this was the destiny of someone like myself. The cards had been dealt and I knew deep down in my flesh and bones that it was my fate to sail alone, to get lost in the mazes of my own mind, to dwell in solitude among those mountains of madness. This was how it was; for some reason I would never fully understand, this is how it was. I guess by now it was just a matter of acceptance: a matter of accepting that I was a lone wanderer – a matter of accepting that I didn’t belong. I guess by now it was a matter of accepting the fact that no matter where I went in this world, I would always return to those hills above the cities, standing alone, staring up into the skies, looking for something – anything – to come and take me home.”

hills above cities.jpg

(taken from my book ‘The Thoughts From The Wild’ available here)

thoughts

~ A Thought From The Wind ~

~ A Thought From The Wind ~

“Watch the sunrises. Watch the sunsets. Walk barefoot when you can. Stand tall against the storm and laugh in the face of stupidity. Soak in the sunlight and don’t feel guilty about devoting time to your passions. Travel if you get the opportunity – even if it’s just to another town or neighbourhood – travel. Explore your surroundings. Explore your creativity and express yourself. Even if your audience is just one person, share the contents of your soul with another. Practice mindfulness and don’t bother wasting money on lottery tickets. The illusion that happiness can be bought with money is just there to keep people toiling away in a hollow rat race. Listen to those starry-eyed children – they have more wisdom than you think. Also listen to the elderly, teachers and gurus, but never forget that true insight and knowledge comes from walking your own path. All the books in this world cannot ever replace the authentic experience of one person rescuing their truth from the wilderness. Believe in your own voice and don’t allow yourself to be marginalised by any institution, culture, religious book or writer. At the end of the day, your very flesh contains the fundamental fabric of the universe; you are the entire cosmos expressing itself as a human-being for a little while. Your skin is literally made of stardust so don’t be afraid to shine, don’t be afraid to dance – don’t be afraid to live your life with such blazing brightness that the stars above you weep with envy.”

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(taken from my book The Thoughts From The Wild, available here)

short stories

~ Medical Trial Madness ~

~ Medical Trial Madness ~ (taken from my upcoming book ‘Alien Nation: The Notes of an Existential Millennial)


 

~ Medical Trial Madness ~

The first time I heard about it was while travelling around Australia. I had just been working an overnight job in Adelaide where me and my friend had spent a few hours pulling down some plastic sheets that covered the clothing racks of a department store during a smoke test. Following this highly-skilled work, we were sat in a McDonald’s joint at dawn watching the streets begin to stir with life over a morning coffee and breakfast bagel. As we discussed the different ways to make money while backpacking in Australia, a fellow worker on the table beside us interrupted with some friendly advice.

       “Why don’t you guys do one of those human guinea-pig things?” he said, chomping away on a sausage and egg mcmuffin.

       “One of those human guinea-pig things?” asked my friend.

      “Yeah, you know, one of those medical trial experiments? You just go into a clinic, they give you a new medicine to take and then you stay in there for a while while you have your health monitored. When you finish you come out with a few thousand dollars in the bank. Easy as bro.”

     Immediately we both stopped eating and turned to face him like he was some sort of prophet. The sound of ‘a few thousand dollars’ to broke backpackers was like the sound of heroin to a smack addict. Being as desperate for money as we were, we naturally disregarded anything to do with the safety of testing unknown drugs.

       “And how do you sign up for one?” I asked, salivating at the prospect.

       “Just go onto their website bro – their clinic is in town. I’ve got a surfer friend whose been doing them for years now. He just knocks out like three or four trials then goes and surfs and gets drunk in Bali for six months or something. Pretty cruisy ey?”

       “Unreal” said my friend. “And anyone can do it?” 

       “Pretty much bro, as long as you can pass a drug test and don’t mind getting stabbed with a needle a few times a day.”

      Me and my friend both looked at each other curiously. After a few seconds of silent contemplation it was decided. Right there and then in that McDonald’s joint I realised that a glorious new career beckoned upon the horizon of my future. So far in Australia I had been a factory operative, a party-hire event worker, a fruit picker and a bartender – but now I was to venture into the pharmaceutical industry where I would nobly donate my body and time in the pursuit of trying to rid the world of the many illnesses that plagued humanity. Oh, and also to afford another month or so of travelling around Australia while getting drunk on cheap wine. 

       It was just a couple of weeks later when I walked triumphantly out of my first medical trial. I had just tested some new medicine to treat Asthma while staying in the clinic for five nights. I walked back out onto the sidewalks of society, joyfully breathing in the fresh summer air, skipping down the street, feeling the sun’s rays dancing away upon my skin. I was like a man in possession of a great secret; I had just spent the best part of a week lying around, being cared for, being fed, playing ping pong and pool while getting paid over a thousand dollars for all of it. Instead of forking out on pricey hostels, I had found a way to get all inclusive free accommodation plus a large sum of money. I stood there on that sidewalk and looked up at skies above knowing that I had found my true calling at last. Some were born to be doctors, some teachers, others presidents. Me? I was born to be a human guinea-pig. It was a pivotal day in my life and to celebrate my new profession, I went online to treat myself and booked a trip to go and cage dive with some great white sharks with the money I had just made in the clinic. Work hard, play hard and all of that.

     Over the next few years I continued venturing in and out of the human guinea-pig industry. Returning home to the U.K, I found I could only take part in a drug trial every three months, so I had to be calculative about when and which assignment I wanted to take part in. I was still travelling on and off somewhere out in the world, so all the trials acted as a convenient way to top up the bank account in between adventures. My equilibrium of life became some sort of comical cartoon where one moment I’d be hiking in the Himalayas and the next I’d be confined in a clinic having some nurse monitor my urine whilst being pumped full of drugs. 

     I thought maybe it would just be for a lifestyle for a short while, but I soon realised that this lifestyle was somewhat sustainable. Due to the entropy of the universe, there was always a wealth of work to be had. My many assignments in the guinea-pig industry included testing drugs to treat diseases and illnesses such as pulmonary arterial hypertension, neutropenia, cystic fibrosis and that old notorious bad guy: cancer. Each one varied from three to eighteen days in clinic, and helped to whatever adventure I was planning next. 

     As the needles pierced my skin and the blood was drained from my body, my financial health flourished as my bank account increased with travel tokens. I made money to go hike in the Himalayas; I made money to go party in Central America; I made money to go walk across Spain while drinking red wine every day of the summer. It was a simple transaction and, truthfully, the whole damn thing seemed too good to be true. The money was great and even the trials themselves were a pleasant experience. Inside those clinics I found fellow aliens like myself wandering out on the fringes of society; inside those clinics I found a way I could sit around playing on an Xbox all day while not feeling guilty about wasting the day away. You didn’t have to spend a single penny while you were in there so essentially everything you earned was complete profit and savings. Hell, it was even tax-free as the money was classed as an ‘inconvenience allowance’ and not a payment. Yes, for once in my chaotic life everything fit neatly into place, but naturally such an unconventional line of work brought about the naysayers. 

    “You don’t know what they are giving you”

    “You’re only thinking about the money”

    “Don’t you care about health?”

    “Sort your life out and get a proper job you hobo..”

      Maybe they were right, but I couldn’t help but dedicate myself to the profession anyway. No doubt I was blinded by the money, but it seemed that being a human guinea-pig was my true calling. I had tried and failed hopelessly at almost every other profession the human species had offered to me. I had no common sense or dexterity to do any of the trades, I was too open and honest to deal with the bullshit and bureaucracy of the business world, and I had even failed at my degree profession of journalism. It seemed that nothing in this society suited me except lying in a bed and being fed some drugs while having my blood sucked dry by a pharmaceutical company that saw me as a mere subject number in a scientific study. It was a funny situation I guess. My friends all had job titles that included: ‘marketing manager’, ‘graphic designer’, ‘business consultant’, and ‘systems engineer’. I suppose ‘human guinea-pig’ didn’t seem to fit in quite as well with those on the surface of things, but the more I took part in those drug trials, the more I realised that such a line of work drew many parallels with those other professions.

     I remember lying in bed on one of the studies and getting speaking to a middle-aged man on the bed next to mine. We both began speaking about our lives and why we were doing the trial, and how many we had done, and what we were planning to do after the trial. Naturally with him being a middle-aged human who had successfully bred, I presumed he was a functioning member of society with a career and confident knowledge of what he was actually doing in life. However after talking for ten minutes, it turned out that miraculously I somehow had a better grip on life than he did. He was spontaneously doing the two-week medical trial after just quitting his job as a store manager for IKEA. He explained to me how the long hours and time away from home had gradually ruined his marriage and social life and left him empty on the inside. He went on to say how he finally decided to quit after his friend had killed himself while also working as a boss for IKEA for twenty years. The death left a profound impact on him. It turned out he was doing the trial to give himself some time alone in the clinic to think about his next move in life so that he didn’t end up as another suicide case driven to that ledge by the cold, mechanical world of business.

     Right there and then I realised that the job of a human guinea-pig was no different than a lot of jobs and professions out there. In the process of trying to obtain money, I went and stayed in a set place for a certain amount of time where I gradually had my blood sucked dry by some company that saw me primarily as a number on a screen. Maybe it was a bit more nonchalant and ‘to-the-point’, but it didn’t seem to be so different from that IKEA job that man had told me about. At least with medical trials it was a lot clearer how it worked: “Look you need money, and we need your body, so come in and sacrifice your freedom and health for a set period of time and we will reimburse you with a financial payment into your bank account”. 

     If anything I had to applaud them for their honesty. Many faceless companies out there tried to confuse you with sneaky slogans like ‘career progression’, ‘success’ and ‘bettering yourself’. Many companies out there tried to make you feel good while really you were just spending the best years of your life confined in some small space doing some menial task as your health was damaged by the stress and the inevitable lack of exercise that came with being too tired to do anything after work. Maybe medical trials were no different in regards to how they used you, but I respected the fact that everything was at least a lot more transparent about proceedings.

     As I carried on my career in the guinea-pig industry, I realised that the IKEA guy wasn’t a one-off. Often I came across people who had dropped out of the rat race and started doing trials in an attempt to afford extra time off during the year, or a way to supplement an adventurous lifestyle like the one I was attempting to live. Mostly they were on the other side of forty. I figured that this was because it was usually at that age many people finally awoke to the fact that they had wasted away their youth working at a job they had no interest in for a company that had no interest in them. Finally realising this unfortunate set of circumstances, they set about simplifying their life and finding a way to afford to actually spend time doing what they cared about – whether that was travel, art, video games or even something as simple as gardening. It was a sudden side step to say the least, but mostly it was a good score: the trials themselves were a nice retreat from society and allowed a person to sit inside all day and maybe learn a new language, play the ukulele or, in my case, work on some memoirs they had been wanting to jot down for a while. Of course there were the obvious possibility that something could go wrong and you could get elephantitis or something, but overall it was a risk I was happy taking.

      And take I did. The years went on and on and so did those trials and adventures. Sometimes it was taking a pill to stop nicotine addiction, sometimes it was an injection to treat irritable bowel syndrome. Eventually I managed to get into the routine of doing three trials a year. With this money supplementing my chaotic lifestyle of bohemian travel, I usually only had to actually work an actual job for no more than five or six months a year. The situation was strange, but a good kind of strange – although I did think maybe I had gone a little too far when I was sat in a toilet holding a container under myself as I went about my business. I had ended up on a trial which required us to give a faecal sample at least once every day. I specifically remember the awkwardness of walking through the clinic ward while holding my container to go and place it on a tray alongside all the other guinea-pig’s cluttered pots of faeces. I thought of how my friends would be handing in coursework, or important projects of some sort they had completed at work. Me? I was quite literally handing in a piece of shit.

     Eventually, after trial number twelve or thirteen, friends and relatives started raising eyebrows that I was still continuing my career in the guinea-pig industry at a relentless pace. 

    “This is getting ridiculous – you can’t do it forever.”

    “You need to think about getting something solid behind you.”

    “You need a proper trade or qualification.”
    

    It was the standard script that parents, teachers and professional human-beings could recite at any given moment on any given day. Even my sister, usually generally on my side with most things, had her eyebrows raised along with the others.

      “Have you not thought about what job you actually want to do?” she said sitting across from me on the sofa. “You’re twenty six now after all. You need some security; you can’t rely on testing medicines all the time.” I was disappointed by my sister’s reaction but I understood her position. By now my sister was twenty-eight, studying a physiotherapy degree and preparing to finally fit herself into the paradigm of society after a decade of free-spirited floating around. The psychology elements of her degree made her feel like she could understand the chaos of the human mind, and she sat back into the groove of the sofa and studied me like she was a therapist and I was her patient. I got into the swing of it and went ahead explaining that by doing a medical trial, working three months and then doing another one, I could afford to travel over half the year for the rest of my life while working on my writings. There was no nod of agreement; just a look of bewilderment, of concern – of outright fear. It was a look I would have to learn to become immune from if I didn’t want to caged by the judgmentalness of the human-race which was always ready to cast those glares and scowls upon you in the millions.

     I thought inside the clinic was safe from such judgment but I began to see a lot of people in there were also insecure that this line of work wasn’t an acceptable way of surviving in this world. The middle-aged people were usually comfortable with them as they did them in combination with some other line of work. But the fellow guinea-pigs my age were often chatting away about other plans or studies or ventures to show that medical trials weren’t their final destination in life. In particular, I met one guy called Daniel, a couple years older than me in his late twenties, who had been out travelling the world the last few years and had now returned home to face the screeching music of ‘the real world’ – an experience I knew all too well.

       I saw him scribbling fastidiously in his notebook. “What are you writing?” I asked.

       “Ahh you know, just trying to get some plans down.” I looked down at the page where bullet-points and ideas littered everywhere in the margins. There was a long list of possible job roles and courses, all as varied as a kid’s pick n mix candy selection. 

      “Wow, you’ve got a lot of plans” I said.

      “Yeah, well, you know how it is. After travelling for so long you’ve got to get yourself in shape and figure out what you want to do with your life. You can’t rely on doing these trials all the time really, can you?” Immediately I started to recall the conversation we had a few days before in the ward. He had told me all about his travels and how much money he was making as a club rep in Vegas, and how he had planned to go back out there, and then later go to Canada, and how he hoped to do all these wild and exciting and adventurous things. 

      “But what about all the other things you planned to do?” I asked. “I thought you were thinking of doing another couple of medical trials and then heading back out to Vegas?”

      “Yeah, that’s true” he said. “But I’ve been thinking about it. I’m twenty-eight now, and I’ve got no relevant experience in my field of study since I graduated. Looking at jobs while in here has made me realise that I’m a bit out of the loop, you know? All my friends here have stable careers. Having to rely on medical trials to get by isn’t what I want to be doing in my thirties. Maybe the travels can wait a bit for now.”

      Naturally I was surprised by this reaction. I wanted to question him on his sudden U-turn of thought, but decided against it. It already seemed like he had enough going on inside his mind. Hearing it off someone like me how he changed his mind so drastically and so quickly probably wasn’t going to help. But it was true: he had waltzed into the study excitedly chatting about all his travels and his plans to continue his adventures after Christmas, but now in less than a week the pressure of society’s expectations and the fact he was getting money from medical trials had started to wear down his idealism of travelling the world. It made me slightly sad and I avoided talking to him any more about those plans he was constantly scribbling down in his notebook of anxiety. It was clear to me he could easily get some quick money together doing this then head back out to Vegas in the new year to continue the life he had proclaimed to love so much. But the situation of coming home and having no real job and testing drugs for money had left him spooked. 

     After that encounter I kept thinking more about my emerging occupation as a human guinea-pig. I thought of Daniel, my sister and all the concerned others. Maybe it was true that an individual couldn’t rely on doing this forever, but all in all I was happy with the line of work I had chosen for the time being. Maybe it would cause me health problems in the future, and even knock a few years off my life, but I was content with the fact that it at least it afforded me months of freedom where I could venture out into the world and live of exploration and adventure. I was content that I was at least living the life that allowed me to explore my interests and passions to the fullest. We were all slowly decaying and dying anyway, so why not do something that at least allowed you to have fun in the small time we had available here? Why not try something a little different? Why not just keep things a little more simple? As a great philosopher once said: “better to have a short life full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.” 

      Well, here’s to you Alan Watts – writing this while temporarily enclosed in a medical trial clinic so I can get some money to go out hiking in the mountains again. Here’s to a glittering career of testing new medicines and blowing the cash on adventure while writing it all down along the way. Here’s to helping cure humanity’s ills while sitting around playing on an Xbox. Now, if only I can get rid of these purple spots on my skin…